Fragmentation and Isolation in the US Economy – Distressed Communities Index

It is widely known that the bottom 80% of the US population has been stuck in neutral or gone backwards in terms of income and wealth over the last 45 years. But even this woeful state of affairs is not distributed evenly across the country. A new analysis of the vitality of US communities by the Economic Innovation Group describes how 52 million (17% of the population) Americans live in “distressed” communities whose trajectories in terms of jobs, income and business vigor is at very great contrast with the centers of the economy while 83 million people (27% of the population) live in “prosperous” communities.

The study, “Distressed Communities Index“,1 uses seven metrics to rate the level of prosperity or distress a community is experiencing.2 These are:

  1. No high school diploma – percent of the population 25 years and older without a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Housing vacancy rate – percent of habitable housing that is unoccupied, excluding properties that are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use
  3. Adults not working – percent of the prime-age population (ages 25-64) not currently in work
  4. Poverty rate – percent of the population whose household income falls below the poverty line
  5. Median income ratio – a geography’s median income expressed as a percentage of its state’s median income
  6. Change in employment – percent change in the number of jobs from 2011 to 2015
  7. Change in business establishments – percent change in the number of business establishments from 2011 to 2015

Selected Findings 3

Key Findings

  • 1. Prosperous zip codes enjoyed widespread job and business growth during the recovery, while the majority of distressed zip codes contended with stagnation or decline.

    2. Prosperous zip codes generated more than half of the recovery’s new jobs and business establishments.

    3. Distressed communities are truly being left behind.

    4. Most of today’s distressed zip codes have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishments since 2000.

    5. Distressed zip codes contain more than one-third of the country’s brown eld sites.

    6. Disparities in educational attainment appear to be closely linked to the diverging fates of communities.

Summary Chart by Distress Level

Growth of Employment and Number of Businesses

Health Outcomes

See “Disparity in Life Spans of the Rich and the Poor Is Growing” by Sabrina Tavernise for more on health outcomes of being poor. 4

Interactive Map – research your own community

Economic Innovation Group offers an interactive map that provides for search by ZIP, county, state and more.

Click to go to the interactive map……..


  1. “2017 Distressed Communities Index.” Economic Innovation Group. Accessed September 29, 2017.
  2. The report actually groups communities as follows: Prosperouscomfortablemid-tierat risk, and distressed.
  3. all data and graphs from the DCI report